IndyCar: Dixon gelling with new engineer, and praises Karam in Ganassi team debut

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One of the upsides for Scott Dixon, the three-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion, in what was a challenging weekend at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was his quick adaptation to working with new engineer Chris Simmons.

Not that this was an entirely new relationship. Simmons – the longtime engineer on the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry – had worked under Dixon’s previous, longtime engineer Eric Bretzman on Dixon’s No. 9 Target car.

But with an offseason personnel move where Bretzman moved into the NASCAR world for Ganassi – brother Ben also moved to Charlotte, in working with Simon Pagenaud on Team Penske’s fourth IndyCar – Simmons was then moved over to Dixon’s No. 9 car as the new lead engineer.

The two pretty much hit it off from the start, as Dixon told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week.

“It’s been really good even though obviously, not working with Eric has been a big change,” Dixon said. “He and I have been together for 13 years. So it’s definitely different. I respect the guy tons.

“But with Chris, it wasn’t a big change in another way, he because was with Eric in the early days and we cross-referenced with the 10 car. It’s not like he’s a whole new person. Then with Travis (Jacobson), the assistant engineer, with Chris… he’s married to Debbie, who was (the late) Tony Renna’s fiancée back in the day.

“It’s pretty seamless. And it’s the same team right? For a tough weekend we had, there were no annoying parts, no big rows or anger. The thing we always have is the desire to win.”

On the “desire to win” front, Dixon said he was thankful Simmons’ old car – the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet driven by Tony Kanaan – was as close to being in win contention as it was on Sunday, even though the rest of the Chip Ganassi Racing team failed to achieve the desired results.

“I expect nothing less from TK. He’s won big races, championships, and he’s on the team for a reason,” Dixon said. “Could we have been up there? Yes. But it’s not a surprise for TK.

“For me, if I can’t be up there at the top, I want one of my teammates up there. It was great to see him salvage a respectable result.”

Dixon also spoke highly of Sage Karam, in his first IndyCar start with Ganassi, after several sports car outings in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

“He did well. He finished the race,” Dixon said. “And the thing is, he’s disappointed with where he finished.

“But St. Pete is one of the toughest street courses we go there. With no street course tire testing it was tough. It was a pretty tight fuel race, and the whole process was an eye opener. He got a lot of things thrown at him. He got to the end of the race. His hand was probably hurting a bit too from the crash.

“Getting to the end is a big milestone for him. He’s a big competitor. He’ll get there man… he’s a big talent.”